23 October 2006

Was Hungary the Last Revolution in Europe?

In a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined The Hungarian Revolution: impotent, poignant, personal, Hungarian novelist Peter Nádas recalls events in Hungary fifty years ago, and then at the responses and nonresponses of other governments to those events.
The Hungarian Revolution was the last European revolution. A bloody end of the romantic and idealist history of the long age of revolutions, an end painful and embarrassing for everyone. The age is over, and this is why the Hungarian Revolution is dead no matter how many monuments the Hungarians raise to celebrate its memory. And it remains dead. It had survived the years of retributions but not the false illusion of peaceful coexistence. In this sense, it's not just a substantial caesura but also a substantial loss for the political thinking of Europe. In the absence of the tradition of revolutionary changes, we are left with the European tradition of conformity and opportunism, with court poetry and mannerism.

With some exaggeration, one could say that in October 1956 the peoples of Europe and North America, together with their legitimate governments, decided to put an end, once and for all, to the age of revolutionary change. And they were right to do so. To avoid another world war, the existing orders had to integrate, in some way or another, the social and political dissatisfaction of the age; this became the supreme commandment of the day. Expressing deep regrets, with bleeding heart and being fully conscious of their responsibility, they opted not to support the headless and 150-years-late Hungarian Revolution either by diplomatic means, or by sending volunteers or weapons.

I say this without any pathetic overtones or sadness: My life has passed in the context of this double bloodletting. Since those days, I have hated despotism. But I also find it difficult to turn my head silently at the sight of the weaknesses, cheap little farces, self-endangering prejudices and overall vulnerability of the republic and democracy.
In April 2005, I also blogged a few pieces of a fascinating article about China's role in the Hungarian revolt.

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